Age of Consent

I’ve been binge-watching House M.D. on Netflix for several weeks now.  But, the following scene struck me enough to stop the furious pace and transcribe the conversation.  It fits perfectly in a blog discussing cultural differences…

A 17-year-old girl has been stalking Dr. House, very overtly trying to seduce him. Close friends warn him to keep his distance–which he more or less tries to do. But the girl is insistent. Finally, she corners him in a parking garage.

Girl: “In Iceland the age of consent is 14.”

House: “I’m surprised that tourism isn’t a bigger industry up there.”

Girl: “So today I’m jailbait. But in 22 weeks anybody can do anything to me. Will I be so different in 22 weeks?”

House: “22-weeks is enough for a fetus to grow arms and legs.”

Girl: “It’s just a line. An arbitrary line drawn by a bunch of sad old men in robes.”

House: “(sarcastically) Yeah, who cares what judges think?”

Girl: “Didn’t think of you as a guy who followed rules just because they were rules.”

They banter back and forth like this, until House’s boss walks in and sends the girl home with some scolding…

——

Fair warning–this is precisely the type of post I was planning when I said “things could get uncomfortable” around here.  Remember, our goal is to challenge the things we’ve come to ASSUME are definitely right or definitely wrong…to see if we can really explain why we think certain ways.  Let’s examine our customs a little closer.

What makes 18 the magic age of maturity?

I think most of us agree it’s not really magic. “Adulthood” can’t be determined by age alone.

But that means–technically–the girl in House was correct. The Age of Consent is just a line drawn in the sand, mostly to make a judge’s decision easier. In contrast, society should place more emphasis on maturity… but who gets to decide when/whether a person is mature?

And why do we continue throwing people in jail for the same sexual acts we would tolerate a few months later?

—-

A few centuries ago (and in some current cultures) it was common practice for middle-aged men to marry 12-or-13-year-old girls.  Westerners refer to these as “child brides” and we tend to consider all child-weddings disgusting.

But I’m honestly struggling with the definition of “child.”

It’s one thing to force marriage on a girl who doesn’t want it… But can we really argue that people younger than 18 are never ABLE to make decisions, such as when to get married and/or have sex?

NEVER?

Our current system seems pretty arbitrary to me…   Regardless of how simple we try to make it, this is a gray area few of us feel comfortable acknowledging. And it may surprise you to realize American views about “consent” are sort-of the strange ones.

The Age of Consent in most European countries is 14 or 15.

I’ve read it’s 13 in Spain.

Are they just horrible, disgusting child-molesters over there in Europe?

Or, maybe all of us are pretty confused about how to deal with sex and laws and what counts as right and wrong?

One day, you’re a criminal…  The next, you’re just another frisky date–enjoying a recreational evening with a sex partner.

Yikes.

—-

The word we assign to illegal, underage sex is “rape,” so I’ll take the opportunity to link Matt Walsh’s post about ending Rape Culture.  He does a wonderful job listing even more double standards in the debate about “good sex” and “bad sex.”

But even agreeing with him that sex should be reserved for committed marriage, it still doesn’t answer the question of how to determine when somebody is “mature” enough to enter into that commitment.  What if a parent really believes a 13-year-old girl can handle decision-making…to give consent…to get married?

And, oh heck, just to make things really awkward, let’s say her potential spouse is almost 30.

Can we say for sure this is TOTALLY WRONG?

I mean, I agree young girls shouldn’t be sold for a profit–against their will–to get their father a new camel or something. Obviously.

But could there be some cases where a girl wants to be a “child bride?” Might she come to love an older, richer man, after a few years married to him, if only he weren’t carted off to jail the second he touched her?

I’m really asking here.

It seems to me that maturity and consent and sex and marriage are far more complicated than counting off birthdays.

Do you have any thoughts?

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16 thoughts on “Age of Consent

  1. bethagrace

    You’re right that maturity is more than counting off birthdays. That’s why there are laws allowing parents to give consent for their minor to be married. Although, yes, there’s a line for that, so it still keeps us in this discussion.

    I feel like anything I say, you’re going to throw back that I’m a product of my culture, which is true. However, I don’t think that’s always a bad thing. We are a culture that understands a 13-year-old doesn’t make decisions in the same way an 18-year-old does.We understand that they are at the cusp of adulthood, and that while they can do a lot of really great things, sex is something that they probably don’t understand the full ramifications of. We also understand that it is really easy, at that age, for authority figures (or even just ordinary adults) can easily deceive them into thinking something is a good idea–or that they should just go along with whatever happens.

    Consent laws are born out of a desire to protect. The 13-year-old may not know better, but you, an adult, do. And while the 13-year-old may be dumb enough to think the two of you will be in love forever, you know that she/he only recently became capable of abstract thought.

    As a teen becomes older, this becomes less true, but we *do* have to draw the line somewhere. It wouldn’t be fair to say that statutory rape will be judged according to the individual’s maturity. What if you thought the person was pretty mature, but the judge says otherwise? Drawing the line makes it clear for every adult.

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  2. bethagrace

    Also, as for Americans being strange, we are a lot more freaked out about sex than Europe in general. We’re also strange for our lack of nudist beaches, the fact that we have porn sold from behind the counter and that we’re faster to want parental guidance advised for movies with sex scenes.

    I take it as a sign of our lasting Bible-y prudishness, and I don’t think there’s any shame in that.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Thanks for the thoughts, Bethany. Your points are reasonable.

      Although, something else to consider: Mary was probably only 12 or 13 when she conceived Jesus. This wasn’t done through sex, as we know. But it still says a little something about maturity and decision-making.of *some* young people… 😉

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  3. Doc

    Suppose a 12 year old boy wishes to marry his 37 year old (single) school teacher. Is this something that we would encourage? It isn’t all about sex; it is about responsibility. When a 13 year old girl has a baby, who is responsible for the support and rearing of the child? I am not convinced that the age of consent shouldn’t be moved to 32 years old (especially for men, since their brains are still developing in their 20’s)

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  4. Jasmine Ruigrok

    You could come at this argument from the angle of being a good team. If a marriage is meant to be a team, the teammates need to be strong enough to support one another in many ways. Personally I don’t think most 13 year olds would have the strength of life experience to be a helpful teammate to someone in their thirties. Now I love Jane Austen’s “Emma”, where there is a 16 year age difference between the romantic couple, however Mr Knightley did wait until Emma became a woman enough to be his wife. I wouldn’t say no marriage between a 13 year old and a thirty year old wouldn’t work, but again, in our culture, it is probably not a wise decision.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      I appreciate this perspective, Jasmine! And I agree: in our CURRENT culture, most 13-year-olds haven’t been prepared to play on a marriage “team.”

      Also, since the majority opinion is that adults should avoid anyone under the magic age of 18, I can’t imagine why they’d challenge that other than for selfish, lustful reasons. (Teacher “falls in love” with minor student. Or priest “falls in love” with alter boy both seem like problems with self control. They were NOT decisions made rationally by the so-called adult in the situation.) When I think from the adult’s perspective, I think “Ew…why would anyone see a teenager as a sexual object anyway!”

      But…I remember being 13…
      And I can’t speak for ALL 13 year olds… but, if I had been taught that “love is love” and “love is SEX,” then I very well might have pursued a much, much older man, if I’d had the opportunity. And, I would have been offended at the suggestion that I was unable to speak for myself because I just didn’t understand what was good for me. :/

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  5. mrsmcmommy Post author

    Reblogged this on Cultures at War and commented:

    I wrote about the tricky Age of Consent laws nearly three years ago. But (not-so-surprisingly) very few people wanted to get involved with the topic.

    I think that’s a mistake. Because the issue of adult-child “relationships” is going to come up again and again in the future. It has the potential to divide traditional, religious Conservatives from the secular, “alternative” ones, as was apparent just yesterday, when popular bloggers Milo Yiannoupolous and Matt Walsh engaged in a heated social media debate.  You can read about the Milo/Matt situation, here’s one of Matt’s Facebook posts– https://www.facebook.com/MattWalshBlog/photos/a.599201390112975.1073741827.570092813023833/1460247764008329/?type=3&theater

    Anyway, here’s what I wrote back in 2014:

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  6. Gene

    So…I haven’t really thought about this before…But what if the consenting child-bride was in the situation where it was legally acceptable, her family was supportive, and her older husband truly loved her and wanted to make her happy, out of a pure heart and right motives? This would be an ideal situation, and in Mary’s case, it was purely ideal (God is so wise and good)! But today, there is so much perversion and God’s law is ignored. It’s extremely difficult for us to think about that type of situation without some sort of perversion attached to it. “Age of Consent”? You’re right, it is our way of trying to protect the innocent. Sadly, our children’s innocence is being stolen with every turn of our head.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      The ethics of this definitely isn’t as clear as most of us would like. 🙂

      I’d like to make it clear that I believe it was wrong for Milo Yiannoupolous to be involved in a so-called “relationship” with a Catholic priest when he was a 13-year-old. At the very least, I believe homosexuality is self-centered and unnatural, and it demonstrates that our culture confuses “love” with “lust” all the time…

      But when it comes to describing “why” it’s wrong, on a case-by-case basis, both believers and unbelievers have a hard time explaining. I’m not sure the age is the sole reason Milo’s situation was a bad one… But we can’t find the right answer using the Bible OR logic OR “science” by themselves.

      :/

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  7. Gene

    That’s right! It IS wrong, and we know it, but we just can’t explain it! The love/lust confusion is one of the BIGGEST lies the enemy is throwing at us. and we can’t explain it, because it deals with the heart, more than the head. Speaking to the heart takes something else altogether.

    Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”

    Thanks Peaches! This is good to get out!

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  8. Cheryl

    The Bible is very clear on what love is and isn’t, and what lust is and isn’t. It’s not hard to explain, its hard for someone who doesn’t believe the Bible to UNDERSTAND.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Thanks for the thoughts, Cheryl. Everyone who had commented here (so far) is a believer. The question was: can someone practice good, biblical LOVE, even before they’re 18 years old… Is it really WRONG for girls to be married to much older men in other countries?

      That’s what we’re trying to work through. 🙂

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  9. Cheryl

    I understood the question, and love your blogs! Just wanted to make sure that was out there, for those who still accept the ideology of our society (There are professed Christian’s who do.). I agree that one may best determine right from wrong based on motive. We’re talking true motive here, not some guise. Only God can know a person’s heart…but with some, it’s pretty easy to guess correctly.:) We are sinners, and in the end it’s between the sinner and God. The lines are arbitrary, really. They are only as good as those who enforce or don’t enforce them…human nature…and these days the emphasis is on “rights” not necessarily what’s right or what’s wrong. Scary… Should bring us all to our knees in prayer.

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